the lost legacy of gaelic in canada

terry glavin transmontanus at GULFISLANDS.COM
Wed Mar 10 19:20:47 UTC 1999

at the risk of going completely off topic, i found the stuff i was looking
for. indeed, there was an attempt a century ago to establish gaelic as the
third official language in canada.

a quick note for purposes of hilarity: the first irish on the b.c. coast
were on cook's ship, the resolution; at least seven of the crew of 112 were
from ireland - tralee, dublin, limerick, kerry and waterford. but here's
something of interest - the first irishman to become resident in british
columbia was john mackay, surgeon on the "captain cook," one of hanna's
ships, 1786, left behind in nootka sound to learn the language (no doubt he
picked up a good bit of chinook) and act as an agent for the east india

 hanna returned later in the year to find mackay "in savage's clothing," and
mackay refused to leave.

 mackay did leave eventually, aboard charles barkley's imperial eagle, the
following year.


 Thomas Robert McInnes, Nova Scotia born, independent MP for New Westminster
(1878-1881), then a senator, in 1890 rose in the senate to introduce a bill
titled "An Act to provide for the use of Gaelic in official proceedings."
This was no fun stunt. When it was treated as such McInnes would become
thoroughly enraged. The bill passed second reading. McInnes argued for it -
in Gaelic and in English.

 among his points was that the population of canada at the time was 4.3
million, with people of irish and scots origin numbering 1.7 million, french
1.2 million, english a mere 821,000 and german and german origin 254,000
(the rest being everyone else).

 mcinnes also argued that between 200,000 and 250,000 canadians still "spoke
the Irish language in their families and transact most of their business in
their mother tongue." i find this very interesting - he refers to the irish
language, not the scots-gaelic of the cape breton people, which would add at
least tens of thousands more gaelic speakers, i would have thought.

 in his speeches for the bill, mcinnes claimed the moral authority of john
a. mcdonald (nb to americans - sir john is canada's george washington),
remembering john. a. as "the veteran chieftan of the clan macdonald," and
recalling sir john's passionate defence of French-language rights.

 in one of his upper house speeches, mcinnes said there were "ten highland
scots representatives (in the upper house) that can speak more or less
gaelic; we have eight irishmen that can speak more or less gaelic, in all
over 20 members of the house who are scots and irish celts, and 32 members
of the Commons who speak gaelic and erse to some extent."

 the bill died in the senate, with votes of 42 against, 7 for.

 oh well.


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